Vegetables Should Taste Good!

The New York Times ran a piece this week about the results of federal legislation mandating healthier school lunches beginning this year. Because of puritanical restrictions on fat and salt, the healthy food has no flavor and many kids are just rejecting it.

Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune has also done fantastic reporting about the insanity that is lunch in the Chicago Public Schools. (Eng is everything a food writer should be–actually expending shoe leather talking to the cafeteria lunch ladies and the students.) Chicago regulations prohibit adding any salt to vegetables, when, of course, as the story I linked to points out, the vast majority of salt in our diet comes from processed foods, not from a pinch of salt added to something made from scratch. There is an additional irony in that the Chicago approach to healthy eating occurs in schools that generally lack kitchens that allow for the preparation of fresh foods. It’s all reheat-only.

So the kids throw their lunches out or eat out of vending machines. Talk about counterproductive!

If you want kids to eat vegetables, here’s a hint: They should taste good.

Our experience at the Lake Avenue Elementary School Garden Project is entirely different. We not only garden with the kids, we cook with them–and seriously! For example, faced with the world’s most beautiful green cabbage in early September and hot weather that suggested it would soon rot and be eaten by slugs, we made pierogi with it–namely, smoked pork and cabbage pierogi, as well as potato, ricotta and cheddar pierogi. We grew the potatoes, too.

This was the opposite of a low-fat, low-sodium meal. Serious amounts of sour cream, pork fat, and butter. But it was delicious! And a lot of kids who never particularly liked cabbage before now like cabbage.

In fact, we find that the kids in our increasingly popular club will eat almost ANYTHING they grow and cook. And I am including beets and bitter eggplants. My partner Carol Maxwell and I always make sure that the recipe is delicious. We are both food people without any fear of bacon fat or cream, olive oil or sea salt, and she is truly a kick-ass cook who expands my horizons as well as the kids’.

But the truth is also that the vegetables that come out of our garden are so delicious in themselves, that the kids will eat them without prodding.

My feeling is that until you have tasted locally grown or homegrown vegetables, you have never tasted a vegetable. So “healthier” school lunches made with tired sad produce shipped all the way from California, or frozen or canned vegetables, are probably not enticing.

Look, institutional cooking is hard. I understand that. But many of us live in places surrounded by superb local farmers. I would bet that if you tapped that resource, as my school district does, and gave the Food Service people wider creative latitude–and kitchens they could cook in–healthier eating would move out of the realm of theory and policy and into kids’ lives.

Posted by

Michele Owens
on October 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm, in the category Eat This, Feed Me, Ministry of Controversy.

Comment List

  • Carla 03 / 10 / 2016

    Yes!!!!!!!

  • Rob Woodman 15 / 10 / 2016

    If our kids palettes weren’t already over stimulated by processed food then the health options wouldn’t be rejected. I’m still shocked that pizza is considered a vegetable, because the sauce once was a tomato. Thats why we send our kindergartner off to school with a bag lunch, with an actual tomato! A big subject to poke a stick at. I look forward to reading all the responses.

  • tibs 19 / 10 / 2016

    I know the women in charge of the lunch program for our local school district. A very health minded individual who runs marathons, lives on a farm, does home canning. She says they require 3/4 cup serving of vegetables which is more than she would eat at a serving and she likes the stuff. They are not allowed to make the much loved “lunch lady cookies”. So much food is thrown out it is insane.

  • Brad 14 / 11 / 2016

    Good tasting food is a must, but it’s not the only challenge. If children are not used to eating healthy fresh food, simply putting it on a plate and giving them twenty minutes to eat it isn’t enough. Food culture is learned and learning takes time and resources. Just ask Mcdonalds how much time and resources they have spent convincing our kids that McNuggets are the way to go. If we want to teach this generation of children how to eat healthfully and help them redefine delicious (that’s a big if) then that’s going to take a lesson plan. (and some good food is going to wind up in the trash.)

  • ProfessorRoush 19 / 11 / 2016

    Ah, poppycock! There are some identified taste disorders, called selective eating disorders, that don’t like certain textures or flavors and calling it healthy isn’t going to get anything eaten by those people. Or by “supertasters”, which is an entirely different group. Look it up, people. I survived in school on milk and whatever poorly seasoned starches I could find, and always came home hungry. Never took a drink of a carbonated beverage that I liked in my life. Only alcohol I could ever stomach, even in college, was peach brandy….which, if you haven’t tried it, is more sugar than alcohol. The truth is, educate the kids on what they should eat if you want, but it isn’t going to change the fact they don’t like the taste. Don’t forcefeed them out of some fascist governmental cookbook. This is America for God’s sake!!!

  • Michele Owens 19 / 11 / 2016

    Professor Roush, palates can be educated! And we should be doing that for our kids.

  • admin 21 / 11 / 2016

    Michelle, my mother wasn’t ever able to educate mine and it wasn’t for lack of trying. And as much as I’d like to fit in with the wine and soda crowd, it just ain’t ever gonna happen.

  • Sandra Knauf 21 / 11 / 2016

    I have seen someone go ga-ga over a homegrown tomato–when they thought they hated tomatoes. What they hated was the pale, tasteless, faux-tomato in the supermarket and on the fast food burgers they’ve eaten all their life. There is nothing wrong with most people’s taste buds, etc.; we are wired to love good food (yes, also fats, salts, etc.,–and those are great too, in moderation) but we can recognize good over bad and get excited about it when we have the CHANCE. I agree with Michele, 100%, and I published an essay last year about a middle school girl who had never had a raw peach before who practically SWOONED when she ate the juicy, delicious, locally, organically grown one our school district 12 is now bringing into the cafeteria. (The essay was written by her teacher. And they run out of these foods, like fresh peaches, when they get them.) This isn’t about some “fascist governmental cookbook”–this is about opportunity and possibility and health. Some will get it wrong at first (the no salt ridiculousness) but that is to be expected.

  • Jason 21 / 11 / 2016

    Not sure when a public school menu is “fascist” and when it isn’t, but it is clearer when those menus are dumb or not dumb. The food served should be reasonably healthy, but, as the post notes, it should taste good. Part of the problem is misplaced puritanism, and part of it is cheapness. We spend less on public school lunches than other developed countries, and the food is more likely to be crappy as a result. That’s why we use the centralized kitchen approach, and why it’s hard to include good quality fresh produce.

  • Toothfairy 21 / 11 / 2016

    Frank, I agree. Fat and protein satiates, lends greater flavor, and just tastes great. Carbs also can taste great, but I believe lead to overeating way too easily. Even the best, organic, tastiest homegrown fruit still packs a whopping amount of fructose. Put some animal protein, some good fats such as butter, virgin coconut oil, or extra virgin olive oil, salt and spices, and the whole game changes.

  • Boneponio Gardenerd 21 / 11 / 2016

    Worst comes to worst, the kids who are throwing away their lunches because they are unreceptive to change will consume that many fewer calories that day. One up the whole thing and remove the vending machines so that they don’t have that option, either. As Eddie Murphy once quipped: “If you’re starving, and somebody throws you a cracker, that’s going to be the best cracker you ever had.” Maybe the whole thing will prompt parents to pack their childrens’ lunch. Don’t have that kind of time? Make the time. Everybody seems to be able to catch the latest episode of “Dancing with the Stars”….

  • gemma 21 / 11 / 2016

    Yikes, I must be the outlier of all outliers. I’m one of the very few who actually eats at least 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. I love vegetables naked and to me, they’re ruined and made inedible when salt and fat are added! The flavor in healthy food does not come from salt and fat!!

  • brody 22 / 11 / 2016

    Growing organic is the best way to get the most flavor out of your food. We are so used to tasting chemicals because of the nutrients used to grow them. Good article.

Leave a Reply